About A Boy

Today, April 20, is about Easter. It is also about a boy.

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The boy and his frog.

The boy in this picture came into my life on April 20, 1975. He doesn’t look this way any more. He’s taller, his shoulders sometimes hunch when the world gets a little much for him, there are a few lines at the corners of his eyes when he smiles.

He’s probably wondering where all the time went. I can’t help him with that.

I can however, remind him of the day when he, just turned seven, brought his froggy friend home for supper. He wanted to create a habitat for him even though the obvious habitat was the creek bank just down the hill where they’d both been spending some quality time together all afternoon.

Arrangements were made. The boy took a bath (I insisted), and the tub was cleaned and prepared for the frog. We placed a rock inside the bath for that homey touch. The water was shallow and what my son determined was the right temperature. We closed the bathroom door.

Did I mention there was only one bathroom in the entire house?

Flash forward to the middle of the night. I have to pee. I forget about the visitor. The minute I open the door, and nearly lose it right then and there when something launches itself right at me. Frog is on the loose. He’s taking the steps three at a time, heading for the downstairs, the living room, the creek.

The boy sleeps like the dead or like seven-year-old boys who have spent the entire day outside. When I yell “The Frog Is Loose” into his ear, his eyes fly open and he’s off. For the next hour we pursue the amphibian through the house, under steam heaters, under couches, with paper bags, much frantic worry on my son’s part and some exasperation but mostly held-back giggles on mine.

The good news is that we saved Mr. Frog from himself. My son snared him in a paper bag. We marched out into the summer night in our pajamas. I started the car and the boy climbed in clutching the top of the bag. We drove to the bottom of the hill where the creek burbled.

I watched the boy get out, carefully lift the frog out of the bag and look him in the eye.

“Good bye,” said the boy. The rest of what he said was along the lines of “I’ll come back in the morning but I know you might not be here. I really wished I could have kept you but I know that wouldn’t have made you happy.” And then he let him go.

A moment of silence followed and then the boy climbed back into the car. A little while later, after a little talk and a glass of milk, he was once again asleep.

To the boy, on his birthday, I say “Happy Birthday. There were times when I wished I could keep you just like this, all muddy, smiles, and full of plans for a frog who had very different ideas.”

I have kept this picture though. I keep the memory of that night along with so many others. I persist in the idea that this boy still lives inside the man my son has become. There is some evidence for this. He still loves digging in the dirt.  He still loves animals although the donkeys would not fit in the bathtub. He still has the most amazing smile.

Happy Birthday to the boy and the man. Happy Birthday to Stan, the most recent addition to the menagerie, who turns one year old today.

Happy Easter to those who celebrate it and may all find joy and renewal in this day.

 

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Happy Birthday to Stan, one year old today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Writing Process Blog Tour

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Revisions. I always think I’m done before I really am.

Just when I was trying to come up with a blog post, my friend Pamela Hunt reached out and “tagged” me for a blog tour all about the thing I was having a really hard time doing that day: writing.

That’s how things have worked with Pamela from the outset. She is a generous champion of my work who has connected me with editors and agents. She has been a tireless and insightful reader. She even landed up moving right to the setting for some critical scenes in my first novel, Camp Lejeune Marine Base where she now lives, teaches yoga, mothers her sons, and writes. Before she even unpacked, she sent me photos and literary descriptions of her surroundings so I could keep working. The writing on her blog, walkingonmyhands.com, continues to inspire me with its honesty and heart-grabbing sentences that mark her unusual journey through life.

Here goes, then, with my answers to four questions about my writing.

1. What am I working on?

The short answer: two novels, my blog, and a collection of essays and stories that exist in drafts ranging from a few lines to almost complete. I’m revising my first novel, Casualties, and doing research and early sketches for my second. The work on Casualties has pushed its way to the fore right now for some exciting reasons which I will save for another time because I don’t want to jinx anything.

That sums up my projects. The real work, it turns out, is actually doing the work which, as author Patricia Park pointed out in a recent Grubstreet.org interview can be akin to running a marathon: “There are so many parallels between marathon training and novel writing: doing speed work, building endurance, learning to pace yourself, saying goodbye to your social life, fighting through the (mental, physical) blocks. And then gunning it for the finish line.”

I’m not sure the parallel holds up all along the line but the need to build endurance and to push through mental and physical blocks resonate with me. When I started down this road, I never gave a thought to the physical blocks. Now I work out just so I can sit or stand at my keyboard. As for “gunning it” at the finish line — I have found that the finish line is where I must be my most patient, my most humble. I’m never done when I think I am.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My novel, Casualties, joins the growing body of fiction that deals with the impact of our most recent wars on those who fight and those who wait at home. The protagonist, Ruth Nolan, however, is a departure. She is a mother and successful defense industry executive who depends on those wars for her livelihood. We haven’t seen a “coming-home” story from this perspective yet.

When it comes to my blog and essays, any differentiation probably comes down to ears, eyes, and voice. There are no new stories under the sun, so they say. But not one of us sees or hears the world around us the same way. I try to remember that every time my inner voice screams “this has been done!” Sometimes she’s right and that pushes me to look deeper and work harder to find the unexpected.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I wish I knew. I have thoughts. I have ideas. I love figuring them out on the page. Writing teaches me about myself, about the world I live in. It can start a conversation that takes me in new directions. I’m basically an introvert with a big mouth. When it comes to fiction, I am struck by a person or a dilemma that won’t leave me alone. Writing is the most fun — and the most frustration, pain, sorrow, joy — I’ve ever experienced in an individual pursuit. I am so glad I get to do it. I get anxious when I don’t.

4. How does your writing process work?

It continues to evolve and I think that is an important part of the process itself. You try things. If they work, great. If they don’t, move on. There are a few cardinal rules I follow:

Get dressed. It’s work, damn it. I need to show up like I mean it. Also, I’ve run out of excuses for greeting the UPS guy at 3 p.m. wearing fuzzy pink slippers and my green plaid bathrobe.

Plan. At the end of each month, I print out a calendar for the next month and identify all the blocks of time available for writing. I list the things I’m aiming for that month, e.g, a new chapter, revisions, essay draft, research, submissions, queries, etc. and prioritize. The month almost never turns out as planned but this exercise calms me. It lets me see how lucky I am and how much time I do have and it motivates me to use it well. It also results in, well, results. Maybe not all I had hoped for but perhaps more than what I could have accomplished if I hadn’t been intentional about the whole thing.

Routine. My basic writing day goes from 9 to 3 and two days a week I have some evening time. I always have my journal up first in the morning and leave it up all day so I can pull from it ideas I had, or add to it, or scream into. I usually continue from where I left off, rather than extensively editing what I wrote the day before. I make notes about revisions I want to make and save them until I’ve completed a draft. Most of the time.

Don’t be a slave to routine. This is my reminder not to freak out when the stuff of life upends the routine. Write when I can. Grab every minute. Let go gracefully when it is time to let go.

I’ve tagged four wonderful women writers to continue this conversation. Next week, they’ll be sharing their writing processes. Check them out!

Rae Padilla Francoeur. Author of the memoir, Free Fall, A Late-in-Life Love Affair, Rae blogs, reviews books, and runs the New Arts Collaborative, a creative marketing business that works with artists in creative and entrepreneurial ventures. She has written three novels and is at work on a second memoir. Link to her blog here.

Judy Reeves. “Writer, teacher, writing practice provocateur” is the tagline on Judy’s blog. She has authored three books for writers and is at work on a new project based on workshops she has conducted, “Wild Women, Wild Voices” due out in 2015.

Janice Wilberg. Janice’s essays have appeared in Newsweek, the Modern Love Column of the New York Times, The Daily Beast, Salon.com, and the anthology, “Precipice, The Literary Anthology of Write on Edge, 2012.” Find her at her award-winning blog, Red’s Wrap.

Anita J. Knowles.  Anita studied film at USC, blogs, and is at work on her first novel. She writes with the kind of originality and honesty you’d expect from a woman who pulls no punches and constantly challenges herself. I’m hoping she’ll share the interesting experiments she’s been doing in her own writing process lately. Link to her blog here.

 

 

 

 

 

Voice: Lost and Found

Greens delicate, spicy, gorgeous along with arugula flowers which provide a peppery snap

Greens delicate, spicy, gorgeous along with arugula flowers which provide a peppery snap

Hello again. It’s me. I’ve gone missing since early February, at least from this page. Those who’ve been blogging much longer than I have already know what I’ve discovered: use that voice or lose it.

For a host of very good but also not very good reasons, I’ve not written here for the past five weeks or so. I’ve missed the writing and I’ve missed the visiting that happens afterwards. I’ve missed these things much more than I ever thought I would when I first started this blog. The longer I went without starting or, in some cases, finishing a post, the harder it was to find my voice, my words. They were working full time in other parts of my life and my work and when I called upon them here, they shook their heads, turned their backs on me, and punched out on the time clock.

Then, my friend Sue called me up and asked me if I wanted some greens from her garden. I said sure. When Sue calls and asks me if I want anything from her garden, I always say yes. I’ll have more to say on this subject very soon. For the moment, though, let me show you the “few greens” that Sue brought me:

Sue doesn't just give me greens, she presents them on a tray

Sue doesn’t just give me greens, she presents them on a tray

Lettuces, fennel, kale, celery, arugula and arugula flowers which turn out to be delicious as well as pretty.

Greens delicate, spicy, gorgeous along with arugula flowers which provide a peppery snap

Greens delicate, spicy, gorgeous along with arugula flowers which provide a peppery snap

A little later she brought me some sweet peas which are not edible but sure smell nice.

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Today, my friend Polly gave me a dozen eggs. They were tan, perfect, and freshly laid by her four hens. “The girls have been busy,” she said when I wondered how she could spare so many.

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My friends didn’t just give me food, they gave me tonight’s meal and tomorrow’s breakfast and enough eggs to make a ricotta pie this weekend.

The gifts are like my friends: generous, beautiful, and so nourishing to body and soul. Without realizing it, they gave me everything I needed to write this post. The words came easily. There are only two that really matter:

Thank you.

Here’s how I dined tonight.

I turned some of Sue’s greens, fennel fronds, and the arugula flowers into a chopped salad. I chopped up some of my own mint and basil to add to the mix. Chunks of avocado, a little squeeze of lime, a drizzle of olive oil and some of the nasturtiums that finally showed up this year in my backyard.

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Notice the arugula blossom waiting for my first bite:

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The kale and what Sue calls her “spicy greens” made a great sautee. Olive oil, a little garlic and a bit of shredded parmesan:

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To Love, Anniversaries, and Burps in the Night

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On February 2, 2012 my husband and I hung side by side at the start of the zip line at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The feeling I had at that moment steals back as I write these words. Pure terror. Pure bliss. The inching forward until the moment arrives in a rush. The platform seems to fall away and there is nothing between us and the earth below us but way too much air and the straps of our sling beneath our butts. He’s laughing. I’m laughing.

We never planned to celebrate our eleventh anniversary by leaping into the air and sailing over the heads of rhinos or giraffes. It was one of those thoughts that just morphed into action after we decided to use our soon-to-expire zoo passes and, while we were at it, celebrate Groundhog Day or, as we also know it, our anniversary.

As our choice of wedding day may indicate, neither of us has any aptitude for event planning. Even if we did, no amount of planning or orchestration could adequately commemorate moments like this:

A belch rips through the companionable silence that accompanies reading in bed before turning off the lights.

Me: “Sorry.”

Him: “That’s okay. As we get older, I don’t expect we will make fewer sounds.” Pause. “On the bright side, as we get older, we probably won’t hear them.”

Or this:

Him: “You know what? I’m sick of you.”

Me: “I’m sick of you too.”

Tense silence. Then both of us dissolve into giggles that nearly make us stop the car.

We are half-way through our three and a half-week drive from New Jersey to our new home in California by way of Charleston, Savannah, and a great swath of Texas. Until that point, we believed we’d figured out how to spend most of our time together. We work together and live together but we’ve never spent 24 hours a day wedged into a car loaded with our computers, bags, china, pillows, soap, a mop, bags, a case full of AAA books, and trepidation about the move we are making.

An expensive anniversary dinner out somewhere would be wonderful but it would never yield the memory of the time my husband finally nailed the art of sautéing baby artichokes. “Try this,” he says, plucking one from the small mound of crispy, glistening baby chokes. I do. I want more. I want to remain in that kitchen and be fed artichokes by this man for the rest of my life. He smiles, turns back to the stove, and says:

“Stick with me little girl, I’ll make you fat.”

A huge party would never drown out the memory of the ringing phone on election day 2004. The doctor’s name shows on the caller ID. I answer but my love is already there in the room holding out his hand for the receiver. I hear the doctor’s words clearly even though my husband clasps the phone to his ear and turns away as if to shield me. Positive is one word. Cancer is another.

We no longer care who wins the election.

Even though we celebrate our tenth anniversary with a trip to Kauai, we don’t need the ocean, the waterfalls, the whales, the coconuts to celebrate every day we’ve had since that phone call and the successful surgery that followed. We celebrate that with moments like this:

Him or me: “Hi, I’m home. Where are you?”

Me or him: “Right here.”

Here’s how our actual wedding went:

At around five o’clock on February 2, 2001, we’re standing in the living room of our condominium in New Jersey at the beginning of an ice storm. We’re dressed to the nines for our two best friends and a minister whose credentials came straight off the Internet. She wears a black judge’s robe although she’d offered to wear a clown suit, or a cowboy outfit, a top hat, or pretty much anything else she had hanging in the closet of her cabin in the thick of the woods thirty miles north and west of us. We saw them all the night we drove up there after work a few weeks earlier to go over the vows she insisted we review with her.

We think we’ve thought of everything. We’ve gotten our kids’ blessings, the rings, roses, the announcements we will drop in the mail sometime that evening. We’ve bought a video camera no one knows how to use.

Then the minister begins to read from the vows – traditional, feminist, with elements drawn from Native American spiritual prayers because we’d never thought about any of this before and, confronted by her menu, thought we’d better try a bit of everything just to be on the safe side.

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As she approaches the section for the first “I do,” my palms grow moist and then I realize there is a sheen on my beloved’s forehead that may or may not have to do with the intestinal infection he developed the night before. There is the moment when we realize that there are no guarantees that we won’t make the same mistakes we made in our previous marriages, that in a few more seconds the only way out will be a path neither of us ever wants to walk again. Then here it comes. “I do.” Fingers twined together, we jump. Our honeymoon is spent in the same living room while he rides out the rest of his bug and I sink into our big white chair with a few novels.

This year our anniversary went like this:

We sleep until our elderly terrier rouses us. We catch up on past episodes of Sherlock and True Detective. We talk about our kids, our family, trips we might take. We eventually get around to washing up and shifting from pajamas to sweatpants. We make breakfast. We make tea. We make lunch. We make dinner. We watch the Super Bowl. We never answer a phone or look at our computers. We find ourselves looking at each other or reaching for each other’s hand and just holding on for a bit.

It couldn’t have gone better if we planned it.

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Journey to Now, Again

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I read MAGICAL JOURNEY last summer and shared my thoughts and a free copy about it here. The paperback version has just been released and Katrina Kenison  is offering several opportunities to win a copy of this book and others free. On January 29, we drew the  name of Misha Gericke of South Africa as the winner of Magical Journey from the readers of this blog. Congratulations, Misha!

But you have until February 7th to try to win your own copy MAGICAL JOURNEY or a copy of Thomas Moore’s “A RELIGION OF ONE’S OWN.” For more information go to Katrina’s blog here, and leave a comment.

One of my favorite writers of all time, Ann Patchett, wrote this about Magical Journey:

“I’ve given MAGICAL JOURNEY to so many people and the response has been unanimous – love.”
Ann Patchett,
author of ‘This is the Story of a Happy Marriage’

Here is my post from the summer in case you would like to know a bit more about MAGICAL JOURNEY from my perspective:

In May I was feeling the loss of an old friend very deeply. It was his birthday month and a year since the last time I’d seen him. May was the time he’d normally be wrapping up his training for the Mount Washington Road Race in New Hampshire’s Presidential Range. Unable to run last year, he and I made breakfast for his fellow runners after their training run. He died of cancer last November.

His absence was palpable, like a deep bruise that throbbed every day. I was conscious that my grief was not only for my friend but for myself. This appalled me. Here I was, surrounded by more love than I ever thought would be mine, a family that is large, multi-faceted and very much alive, and a chance to do what I’ve always dreamed of doing. I was, and remain, grateful for all of it.

But struggle and confusion persisted. How is it possible to hold loss and grief and joy and gratitude in one heart all at the same time?

Around this time, I started to read Katrina Kenison’s memoir, MAGICAL JOURNEY one of two books I’d given myself for Mother’s Day. Within, I found a fellow traveler grieving for her own old friend. “She’s been gone three months and I’m still not used to the world without Marie in it.” A few pages later I realized I had tears in my eyes as I read about Katrina’s loss as if I were reading about my own.

“The stark, absolute absence of her— of her life, her face, her hello on the other end of the phone, her name popping up in my e-mail box, her presence here on earth— has begun to grow, as Sylvia Plath put it, “beside me like a tree.” I live in the dark shadow of that loss, the shape and color of my own life changed by the too-early end of hers. And I know now, in a way I never quite did before, that time is contingent and that anything can happen.”

I lost myself for a few days in the story of Katrina’s journey. It was triggered by a convergence of events that unfold for all of us in one form or another: the unexpectedly premature flight of her youngest son from the nest, the loss of her friend, the end of a job she had loved, the approach of menopause, and the impending arrival of her 50th birthday. Among other things.

When these events are listed like this, it is perhaps tempting to say, “that’s life isn’t it?” Children grow, friends die or leave, our bodies change, and we get older. I’ve said this to myself, usually when I am feeling anxious or worried or unbearably sad. I see it now as an attempt to sidestep the emotions that come with loss and the unrelenting reminders that nothing, absolutely nothing, is permanent. I am learning the long, slow, hard way that the key to growth and peace lies in how I respond to that single, incontrovertible fact.

In MAGICAL JOURNEY Kenison is a pilgrim in the land of impermanence. As I read her book, I felt as though I were taking each step with her, sometimes forward, sometimes back, and sometimes into familiar territory. When she described finding herself suddenly untethered to the daily routines of childcare, I remembered the first year after my son went away to school. when coming home from work meant coming home to a lonely silence and a strange, unsettling feeling that I often tried to ignore by throwing myself into work or hitting the gym. Like Katrina, I came to understand that the crack in what she calls the container we’ve built for ourselves represents both an ending and the beginning of whatever is next.

“Sitting here alone in my slowly brightening kitchen, I wonder if my early-morning restlessness could be preparing me for an awakening of my own. And if perhaps what has felt so much like an ending might also be a beginning.”

What I came to appreciate most about MAGICAL JOURNEY however, is that  there were no discussions of “bucket lists” or developing action plans and strategies for the second half of life. In fact, Katrina spends a lot of time being still and grappling with not knowing exactly what is coming.

“Instead of continually wondering, “What’s next?” we can bring a spirit of inquiry into the present moment. We can be still, and more considerate toward ourselves. When it is too dark to see, we can listen instead. We can ask, “What is my experience of this moment?”

In the stark new silence of dawn in her once-noisy home, she writes her way to understanding and starts to pay attention to her inner guide. Her journey takes her from that kitchen, to immersing herself in yoga and learning to teach it, to a marriage counselor with her husband, to old friends, new friends, and then to helping others through healing practices and leading memoir workshops. Those are the stops that are easy to describe and are, indeed, rich and very powerful experiences but she didn’t get to them though by following her old expectations or the expectations of others.

“It seems that an honest answer to “What now?” isn’t going to have much to do with my youthful aspirations or definitions of success. It will rise from deep within, … My real task is not to try to reinvent myself or to transcend my life after all, but to inhabit it more fully, to appreciate it, and to thoughtfully tend what’s already here.”

We learn from each other’s stories. This is one of the oldest ways that humans have helped each other navigate the years between birth and death. Mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers, friends, perfect strangers – they can come along at exactly the right moment with the right words or just the simple companionship that makes you realize you while you must make your own journey through life, you are not alone.

In writing about this stage of her life, Katrina touches on the changes that come to all of us. Loss. Love. Children. Letting Go. Hanging on. Not knowing. Learning to trust and live in a world where nothing is permanent and time seems short. Reading MAGICAL JOURNEY helped me to remember that ultimately the place we’ve been headed all our lives, the place we must truly learn to inhabit, is now.

Confessions of a Bathroom Reader

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The revolving library in our bathroom shares space with the spare rolls of t.p.

Confession #1. This is for my mother who will not be shocked when she hears that yes, all those times I disappeared into the bathroom when it was my turn to wash the dinner dishes, I was reading.  Long after I had any legitimate reason to be in the downstairs bathroom, I was poring through the pages of Gone With The Wind, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, an old Perry Mason mystery, or some other novel I’d stashed there before dinner. The dishes, I reasoned, would always be there. What would one more chapter matter? She never saw it this way which may account for the many nights of extra reading I enjoyed when she grounded me for ignoring her when she pounded on the bathroom door.

Confession #2. And this one is for those who had to be evacuated from the old Woolworth’s building in Somerville, New Jersey one day during the height of tax preparation season over a decade ago: it was my fault. I went to the ladies’ room shared by our office and the H&R Block staffers on the third floor. I carried with me the key to the bathroom which was appended to a binder clip big enough to clamp both sides of the Manhattan Yellow Pages with room to spare. I also carried some essential reading material. Work related possibly but more likely the copy of People Magazine that I received as a gift from an old friend and not as a joke either. Somehow, in the complicated maneuvers required to complete my toilette, flush, and transfer my magazine  (okay, yes, it WAS People Magazine) from hand to hand, the key and giant clip slipped from my hand and dropped into the swirling waters never to be seen again. My People, however, was safe.  Two hours later, the landlord cleared all three floors of the building because of a massive problem in the pipes which required the water to be shut off. Those who knew about the key did not know about the People Magazine. To you, my friends, I am sorry. You never told the landlord or anyone outside our office who was behind the shut-down and you did give me that lovely, giant key made of chocolate for Christmas. I am ashamed.

Confession #3. To my husband: I am sorry for picking up all those novels you left by the toilet and reading the endings before you’d had a chance. In my defense, I couldn’t put my hands on the books I was reading at the time and because am always interested in what interests you, I read your books. I have also, on occasion, walked off with books you’ve left in the bathroom clearly marked as yours by the presence of your reading glasses which I have, unwittingly I assure you, also taken with me.

Confession #4. Finally, to the librarians of the Montclair Public Library in Montclair New Jersey, here is the real reason I waited a year to return a copy of John Irving’s The Cider House Rules: I hoped that if I just waited long enough, you’d forget about it and I’d never have to explain that the hardcover swelled to three times its normal size when it fell (okay, I dropped it) into the  bathtub. I am also sorry for returning it, dried and fat, its cover ink running like mascara down a crying clown’s cheeks, by squeezing it through the night depository slot. I just couldn’t face you. I remind you that when you sent me the bill, I paid it. And I resorted to buying books rather than risking your ire for years afterwards.

There, I feel better now. In truth, I have more happy memories of reading in the privacy of the bathroom than awkward ones. When you come from a family as large as mine, there are very few places one can really get away. Books come in handy. So do bathrooms. It was in my bathtub that I read Johnny Tremain for the first, second, and third times as a kid. The water turned green from the ink that ran from the binders and my puckered fingers looked like pickles but I had the pleasure of sinking into hot water and the world of Boston at the dawn of the American Revolution at the same time.

I’ve grown up now and here is what my pre-bath set-up looks like on an ideal night:

The grown-up book, bath and beyond experience

The grown-up book, bath, and beyond experience

When I visit folks, I do what I bet many of you do, I try to learn whatever I can about them from their book shelves. When a bathroom is devoid of reading material, I am suspicious. On the other hand, I am growing more proficient in the pronunciation of the names of chemicals found in air freshener, toilet bowl cleaner, hand cream, or shampoo. 

I always like to visit my sister Kit who has moved a number of times over the years but has more or less maintained the same lavatory library which is more like a carefully curated collection of audio-visual materials to “go” by.  She has graciously provided a small tour of it here.

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“So on the top shelf is my collection of hair ties & boobles, always a pen handy in case there is a crossword or soduku going, and my essential oils.

2nd shelf is candle, for, ahh, ya know…

Behind that is my Fantasia flip book (um, at least 20 years old….a chat pack (conversation starters), and a set of “Power Cards” that have affirmations reminding me that “Loving others is easy when I love myself”  and  other positive messages. Behind that is a treasured book given to me by my cousin Kak , THE INVITATION. The flip thing with the two ring binders is something called DAILY TONIC, 365 days of quotes that has traveled with me for 30 plus years.

On the 3rd shelf is a hand squeezer/exerciser given to me by Mrs D [our stepfather's wonderful mom]  when I was diagnosed with MS. Every now and then I pick it up and practice my strength resistance.”

A close up of the Fantasia Flip Book:

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From a writer’s perspective, it may not always be thrilling to learn that your well-wrought prose is helping a reader to pass the time on the throne. I have little experience to share here except for this rather scalding one, at the hands of my mom way back when I was a junior in college and shared with her my first effort at feature writing. 

“What do you think?” I asked her when I’d shown her the piece about a rural pilot I was hoping to sell to a regional magazine.

“It’s good, Sweetie. Great bathroom reading.”

It took a long time but I realized I couldn’t maintain a double standard. I have hauled everyone from Charles Dickens to Gary Larsen (The Far Side), into the bathroom with me. If someone ever needs a little company in the water closet  and they pick me, I’ll be honored.

I just don’t want to know exactly what they are doing when they are reading it.

Here are a few fun links on the well-established practice of bathroom reading, complete with commentary from Charles Simic in the New York Review of Books to the mainstay of loos everywhere, Readers Digest. Bloggers have had their fun with it too. If you’ve a mind to, share what’s on your bathroom shelf these days. Maybe we’ll all learn something new.

A few more links:

A male perspective: Ask Men.

Alice’s perspective: Ask Alice

Fox News’ perspective which examines the health risks of bathroom reading. Who knew? Except maybe George from Seinfeld.

The Goodreads list.

The compendium of all reading for the lav, Uncle John’s. 

Twenty Nine

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When I saw the prompt for an essay contest a while back, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

The prompt was this: write about a moment you would like to have back, to do differently if you could. Although there are many such moments in my life, it wasn’t hard to come up with the one I needed to write about. It lives beneath the surface of my daily life like a splinter under my skin, teaching a lesson I seem to  need to learn over and over again.

I wrote the essay and am honored to say that it was selected by Literary Mama to run in the Creative Nonfiction section of the December issue.  I share it here. If you are new to Literary Mama, I encourage you check it out. It is rich with beautiful, thought-provoking writing captured in reflections on literature, interviews, fiction, poetry, reviews, essays, and columns.

Without further ado, here is a link to my essay, “Twenty Nine.”

Why can’t I forget this? My son has long since forgiven me. We’ve had many happy days and have successfully navigated others marked by greater trauma or guilt. In fact, he does not remember the incident until I show him the picture. For this, I am grateful. Still, I believe there is a reason I need to remember. – See more at Literary Mana, “Twenty Nine.”